The planets are young: 5
Uranus and Neptune
Published: 11 September 2019 (GMT+10)
We continue our response to the 2019 BBC-TV series The Planets, presented by Professor Brian Cox. In this article, we are considering the fifth and final episode, Into the Darkness – Ice Worlds (for the others, see Related Articles, below).
“Far, far, away … Uranus”
Thus Prof. Cox very fittingly begins his account of space probe Voyager 2’s journey from Earth to the two planets, Uranus and Neptune. These two planets are often called ‘ice giants’, in contrast to the ‘gas giants’ Jupiter and Saturn. The gas giants are over 90% composed of hydrogen and helium, which are gases until extremely low temperatures. But the ice giants comprise a large percentage of heavier elements such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. These all form compounds with hydrogen: water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide, respectively. The frigid temperatures in the outer region are lower than the freezing points of all these compounds, so planetary scientists call them all ‘ices’.
Cox continues: “… beyond Mars, past the storms of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn … lie the most mysterious planets of them all, Uranus, a pale blue marble hanging in the dark frozen depths of space, and further out, the solar system’s final true planet, Neptune. … Travel times are measured not in months, but in years, decades even. … And when we get there our spacecraft are travelling so fast that they fly straight through, only spending a few hours in the system.”
Next, Cox introduces viewers to several aspects of Uranus that he calls ‘mysteries’.
1. The mystery of Uranus’ rings
Cox: “Almost nine years after leaving earth, Voyager 2 approached an entirely new class of planet. … Uranus, at –224º C, is the coldest planet in the solar system, the first of the ice giants, in a permanent state of deep freeze. … Uranus has rings [which are] extremely delicate and thin, and that’s a great mystery, because you expect the particles to collide and the rings to spread out over time, [but] that does not happen. So something must be holding those rings in place.”
Cox explains that space probe Voyager 2 discovered that two moons of Uranus, called Cordelia and Ophelia, orbit on either side of the Epsilon ring, and the gravities of these two moons keep the particles of this ring in place. He says: “these moons keep the ring nice and neat around Uranus. And for that reason, these moons have become known as shepherd moons. Now, we haven’t discovered any more shepherd moons, but we assume that they’re there, orbiting around Uranus, keeping the other rings precisely in place.”
That’s an assumption. They may be there or they may not. Irrespective, a much more cogent explanation of the mystery is that the rings are not billions of years old, and so they just have not had time to disperse.
2. The mystery of Uranus’s clockwise spin
Cox: “The missing moons are not the only mysterious thing about the planet. Uranus orbits the sun in a unique way, a consequence of events that happened long ago. Uranus was born from the vast cloud of material that surrounded the young sun. Over time, this material drew together under the influence of gravity forming each of the planets, all orbiting in the same anti-clockwise direction as the primordial cloud of gas and dust. This rotation remains to this day. Almost all the planets spin on their axes in the same anti-clockwise direction. But for reasons we don’t yet fully understand, Venus and Uranus spin on their axes in the opposite direction.”
However, concerning the origin of Uranus, as we have previously said, from a practical point of view, expanding gases don’t reverse their expansion because of gravity, they disperse; and colliding rocks don’t coalesce, they shatter one another. Moreover, from an ideological point of view, if you claim the nebular hypothesis (i.e. a rotating cloud of gas and dust coalescing) as your theory for the origin of each of the planets in the solar system, the fact that Uranus is spinning ‘the wrong way’ (i.e. retrograde) compared to the rest of the system, means that the theory is falsified. And the fact that there is a second planet, Venus, that also spins ‘the wrong way’, means that the theory is falsified twice!
So we suggest that the ultimate mystery is: why is the theory retained?
Answer: For evolutionists/naturalists, anything is better than admitting to a Creator, even an untenable origin theory that repeatedly fails to fit the facts.
3. The mystery of Uranus being on its side.
Cox: “Uranus is even more curious. The entire planet is on its side. It’s not known for certain why Uranus spins in this way, but it seems likely that, at some point, probably in the distant past, it was hit by another planet, possibly of the size of Earth, or even larger, which knocked the planet over. And indeed, modern computer simulations suggest that when you do that to a planet, all the moons follow, and you end up with a planet, and its system of moons, and now its rings, sort of corkscrewing around the sun on its side.”
And that is the limit of what Prof. Cox had to say on the subject of Uranus. However, there is much more that needs to be considered.
Problems with the impact theory
What is the evidence for this alleged massive hit that has resulted in so much mystery? Other than the observation it seeks to explain, there is none for, and a huge amount against. E.g.:
The mass of Uranus is 14.5 times the mass of Earth. It also rotates even faster than Earth (17 h 14 min 24 secs or 0.71833 Earth days), which means it acts like an enormous gyroscope, resisting change of its axial direction. Also, the impactor would need to strike a glancing blow near one of Uranus’ poles to provide the huge amount of torque needed. So the chance of an Earth-sized planet knocking Uranus over is zilch.
What about a larger planet? Some 63 Earths would fit inside Uranus, so to have any effect at all the impactor would need to be of sufficient immensity. But what immense impactor? Science and astronomy know of no such object, or even the remains of one. Presumably the impact would have needed to occur before Uranus accumulated its thick atmosphere, according to evolutionary modelling of its history.
- Uranus rolls through space in an almost circular orbit. (Its furthest point is only ~10% further than its closest point; cf. our moon with a 12% difference.) This is not what a massive hit would produce.
- Uranus’s orbit lies more closely within the ecliptic (the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun) than any other planet. This is not what a massive hit would produce.
- Uranus has some 27 moons, all orbiting Uranus’ equator. So where did they all come from? They could not have formed before the alleged hit, as they would have all been scattered by it, nor yet as the result of the alleged hit, because their orbits are too regular, all within the same plane. Yet contra Cox, a Japanese study argued that the moons were the result of the impact, but admitted that the moons from such an impact would be orbiting closer than they do.
Hannes Alfvén (Nobel prize winner in Physics, 1970) says: “[T]o place the Uranian satellites in their present (almost coplanar circular) orbits would require all the trajectory control sophistication of modern space technology. It is unlikely that any natural phenomenon, involving bodies emitted from Uranus, could have achieved this result.”
So the evidence is that no hit occurred. But a simple and factual explanation that does fit the evidence is that God created Uranus the way it is, where it is, and why it is! And perhaps deliberately in a way that defies naturalistic explanations.
Finally, Uranus is one of the four giant Jovian planets, which supposedly all formed at the same time (billions of years ago), from the same materials (primordial dust and gas), by the same natural process (gravity). The other three planets all radiate more energy into space than they receive from the sun; Uranus does the opposite: it receives more energy from the sun than it radiates.1 The nebular hypothesis again fails to provide a rationale for the observations.
Neptune, the mysterious eighth planet
Neptune is the furthest from the sun of the eight planets. It is 17 times the mass of Earth, and is very similar to Uranus, but is denser and physically smaller than its sister planet because its greater mass causes more gravitational compression of its atmosphere.
It is made of a thick soup of water, ammonia, and methane ices over an Earth-sized solid centre. Its atmosphere consists of hydrogen, helium, and methane. The methane gives Neptune the same blue colour as Uranus, although noticeable deeper. It too is a source of multiple mysteries for evolutionists.
1. The mystery of Neptune’s extreme winds
Cox: “In contrast to its sister planet, Neptune’s atmosphere is bursting with activity. High-altitude winds whip white methane clouds around at speeds of over 2,000 km/h. These are the highest wind speeds anywhere in the solar system. And Voyager 2 saw a great dark spot, not unlike Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a storm system the size of Earth, that only four or five years later had vanished. … It’s one of the great mysteries of planetary exploration—why a planet so far from the sun, with so little energy falling into its atmosphere from sunlight, can have the most extreme winds in the solar system.”
2. The mystery of Neptune’s heat
Cox: “Voyager 2 made yet another puzzling discovery. Although further from the sun, the planet is warmer than Uranus. The source of this extra heat remains a mystery. But for some reason, Neptune emits over two-and-a-half times the heat it receives from the sun. And this internal heat helps to explain the ferocious storms. As the heat makes its way from the core of the planet and out into space, it churns up the entire atmosphere. … There are no mountains and continents to break up the flow of atmospheric gases, and so the winds can just whip around the planet at supersonic speeds.”
Neptune indeed is a dynamic, ever-changing place. However, just how it has the heat that it radiates away, and that generates the solar system’s greatest storms defies naturalistic explanation. If Neptune were billions of years old, it should long since have become ‘cold’, and hence no longer have any heat to generate strong wind movement. But Neptune fits the Creation model very well, as a young Neptune could still be cooling off a few thousand years after its creation. So the mysteries to naturalists of Neptune’s stormy winds and residual heat are no mystery at all to Bible believers who accept God’s word in Genesis Chapter 1 as factual truth.
The nebular hypothesis does not work for Uranus and Neptune.
In naturalistic models, the farther a planet is from the middle of the nebular gas and dust cloud, the longer it would take for that planet to form. The alleged 4.5-billion-year age assigned to the solar system is not enough for the two most distant planets, Uranus and Neptune, to have formed in this way. Hence Uranus and Neptune both falsify the nebular hypothesis regarding their origin from it.
One secularist astronomer has commented: “What is clear is that simple banging together of planetesimals to construct planets takes too long in this remote outer part of the solar system. The time needed exceeds the age of the solar system. We see Uranus and Neptune, but the modest requirement that these planets exist has not been met by this model.”2
And astronomy Prof. Martin Duncan wrote: “It‘s clear that our level of sophistication of studying planet formation is relatively primitive. … So far, it’s been very difficult for anybody to come up with a scenario that actually produces Uranus and Neptune.”3
Creationist astronomer Spike Psarris comments: “Here we see the true heart of the matter. The ultimate goal of the evolutionist is to ‘come up with a scenario’ of how the universe formed by itself, without a Creator. Sadly, they often seem to believe that the mere act of making up such a story proves that it all actually happened that way. … instead of acknowledging their Creator, they would sooner cling to a story that denies the very objects that it’s supposed to explain!” See Neptune: Monument to Creation.
3. Neptune’s moon Triton—yet another mystery
Neptune has far fewer moons than the other giant planets—only 14. And by far the largest is Triton, containing 99.5% of the mass of everything orbiting Neptune. Triton is a cold dark place, covered in a sheen of frozen methane, but Cox says it has “geysers erupting up into space, 8 km high”, and he tells viewers the Triton scenario, which goes like this:
“Unlike every other large moon in the solar system, Triton orbits in the opposite direction to the spin of the planet. That means that it’s highly unlikely that Triton and Neptune formed at the same time. … One theory is that billions of years ago Triton was not a moon at all. It grew up in … the Kuiper Belt. Here trillions of frozen lumps of water, ammonia, and methane circle the sun, the frozen leftovers from the formation of the solar system. Perhaps Triton ended up on the inner edge of this region and ventured close enough to Neptune to be drawn by its gravity, until eventually it was plucked from the Kuiper belt and forever trapped in orbit around the distant blue planet. … Today, Triton orbits in a nice regular circle around Neptune.”
Oops. Surely that last bit about Triton being in a nice regular circular orbit—indeed, the most circular (least eccentric) orbit in the solar system—falsifies the scenario! No problem, the evolutionary story is infinitely flexible.
Cox reassures viewers: “But it wouldn’t have started out that way. When it was first captured, it would have glanced past the planet and ended up in a wide elliptical, orbit, sometimes being far away from the planet, and sometimes close. That means that as Triton orbited around Neptune, the gravitational pull was constantly changing, and that stretches and squashes the moon, and heats up the interior, by friction. The molten interior would have exploded up through cracks and faults in Triton’s crust, creating the ragged surface we see today. And what you’re left with is a cooling moon, orbiting in a circle, the wrong way round the planet, the dramas of its past hidden from view.”
But every single word in this scenario is total conjecture. What’s the evidence that any of this is what actually happened? How could Triton possibly have kept erupting for billions of years without running out of stuff to puff? And just how did Triton’s orbit change from allegedly elliptical to present-day circular?
Actually, some planetary scientists doubt that the tidal circularization that Cox explained is sufficient. So they propose that Neptune captured Triton very early in the solar system’s history, while the alleged prograde protoplanetary gas disk could still slow its orbit.
And if Triton’s orbit is circular now (and hence subject to much less gravitational-stretch heating) why does it still have ‘geysers erupting up into space, 8 km high’?
Once again, recent creation provides a much more cogent answer to the multitude of scientific problems that billions-of-years evolutionary theories create.
Pluto, no longer the ninth planet
Cox recounts the reason the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto should no longer be called the ninth planet. That is, although it orbits the sun, and is massive enough for its gravity to sculpt it almost into a sphere, its mass is not sufficient to throw things out from its orbital path. Also there are several known objects out there, and potentially hundreds of others, big enough to be called planets too, if Pluto is called one. So Pluto is now designated as the minor planet 134340 Pluto—less than a fifth as massive as our moon.
As to the exploration of Pluto, in July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons space probe flew past the dwarf planet, revealing yet more mysteries for naturalistic theory.
1. The mystery of Pluto’s origin
Cox avoids mentioning Pluto’s origin. Why? Is he perhaps aware just how much Pluto contradicts the nebular hypothesis? Here are the main contradictions:
- Pluto does not orbit in the same plane as the planets (i.e. the ecliptic) but at an angle of 17°. Why?
- Pluto’s axis of rotation is not perpendicular to its orbital plane but is tilted so that it points almost directly at the sun at present. How did this come about?
- Pluto’s orbit is not circular but highly elliptical. In fact, for 20 of the 248 Earth years its orbit takes, it actually comes closer to the sun than Neptune. Why, if the nebular hypothesis were valid?
- Pluto’s five moons all rotate at different speeds as they orbit Pluto, and one rotates on its side and backwards against its orbit, i.e. retrograde (see more details below). This is unexpected in the nebular scenario.
- Evidence of persistent geological activity on Pluto and its moons challenges naturalists origin theory. How could all this heat-requiring activity still be going on in such small celestial bodies, so far from the sun, after the alleged billions of years? It is all a ‘mystery’ for long-agers.
2. The mystery of Pluto’s smooth area
Cox directs viewers’ attention to the huge smooth heart-shaped area, plainly visible in the Pluto pic above, called Sputnik Planitia (formerly Sputnik Planum), and he tells viewers: “The surface of Pluto is covered in craters—the scars of impacts that took place over many billions of years … except, if you look on Sputnik Planitia, it is absolutely smooth. There are no craters there at all, not a single one. From space the lack of craters is striking. And the closer you look, the stranger the mystery gets.”
His explanation for this is an alleged heat source, concerning which he says: “That a small world like Pluto is still active was a huge surprise. … Our best theory of how this could be is that somewhere deep in its interior there are radioactive elements that generate heat as they decay. This heat warms a sunless, half-frozen ocean of water that has existed for billions of years beneath the surface of Pluto. … And the relatively warm ocean could explain the lack of craters on Sputnik Planitia. The entire area is constantly being repaved, as the nitrogen surface is slowly turned over.”
However, Pluto is so small that a radioactive heat source should have been cold and dead eons ago. Furthermore, it has a very low density, only slightly greater than those of the giant planets, and much lower than those of the terrestrial planets. This means that any rocky core would be very small, deep under the mantle of ‘ices’. The core would be the only place where heavy radioactive isotopes could exist in large enough quantities.
One can understand why secularists would want to invoke radioactivity as a heat source, but even if there is such a source causing the smooth area, radioactivity alone is insufficient to explain the amount of geological activity on Pluto and its moons, if they all really were billions of years old. Also, why would such a source not have melted ice elsewhere on Pluto?
3. The mystery of Pluto’s moons
This is another topic that Cox avoided, so we will deal with it briefly. Pluto has five moons named Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Charon rotates once per lap (because it is gravitationally locked to Pluto), Styx rotates 6.22 times, Nix 13.6 times, Kerberos 6.04 times, but Hydra rotates an amazing 88.9 times per lap. Nix rotates retrograde, i.e. backwards against its orbit. Also Nix is tilted on its axis by 132 degrees. Such ‘chaos’ totally eludes naturalistic explanations. See:
Solving the mysteries
Eliminating the naturalist assumption of billions of years from the age of the universe resolves these problems. In a solar system only several thousand years old, energy could still be dissipating since creation. In fact, Pluto provides huge evidence that the solar system cannot be billions of years old—only thousands, as God’s word, the Bible, indicates.
So how did the solar system form?
Our all-knowing God has told us that He created the sun and the moon, as well as the other lights in the sky “to separate the day from the night” and “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” by His Word, as Genesis 1:14–19 claims. Note that the Hebrew word for ‘stars’ (כּוֹכָבִֽים kôkāḇîm) is broader than the modern meaning, and includes meteors (‘shooting stars’) and planets (formerly ‘wandering stars’). Furthermore, this was about 6,000 years ago according to the genealogies given in the subsequent chapters of Genesis. See:
- How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?.
- Morning has broken but when?
- How long were the days of Genesis 1?
What the Bible says about Creation
Some of the essential and distinctive elements of Creation, as revealed in Genesis chapter l, as well as elsewhere in the Bible, are:
- Creation involved the act of God in bringing into being immediately and instantaneously matter which did not previously exist, without the use of pre-existing materials or secondary causes; for example, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, as recorded in Genesis 1:1, cf. Hebrews 11:3. Creation also involved the shaping, combining, or transforming of existing materials, as when God created Adam from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7), and Eve from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21–22).
- Creation involved the imparting of life to otherwise lifeless matter.
- The Creator was the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. “All things were made by Him [the Word, in Greek ὁ λόγος (ho logos) = Jesus Christ] (John 1:1–3), and “For by Him (Jesus Christ) were all things created (Colossians 1:16; cf. Hebrews 1:1–2). See: Is Jesus Christ the Creator God? and A remarkable witness to creation, Satan.
- The mechanism of creation, or the means whereby the above aspects were accomplished, was by the Word of the Lord, that is, God said (= God willed it to happen), and it happened. See Creation—how did God do it?
- The purpose or motive of God in creating was to display His glory (Psalm 19:1), to make known His power, His wisdom, His will, and His holy name (Isaiah 40:5), and that He might receive glory from His created beings(Psalm 29:1; Revelation 4:11).
God has provided a marvellous solar system for us humans to marvel at and explore—by instruments such as telescopes, unmanned spacecraft, and eventually perhaps even interplanetary travel. Contrary to atheistic evolutionary theory, life is much more than what can be measured by computers or observed by spacecraft.
We are spiritual beings, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), made to live in union with God, made to achieve His purpose in the world. God’s purpose is that we should know Him and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3).
References and notes
- See Henry, J., The energy balance of Uranus: implications for special creation, J. Creation 15(3):85–91, 2001. Return to text.
- Taylor, S.R., Destiny or Chance in our Solar System and its Place in the Cosmos, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1998, p. 73. Return to text.
- Duncan. M., Astronomy 28(4):30, 2000. Return to text.